What are the main SEO considerations for merging sites?

Today’s Ask An SEO question is about the all-too-familiar challenges of site consolidation and migration.

Migrations and consolidations can be daunting and scary, but are often necessary nonetheless.

They can also be a great benefit to your website if done correctly.

The question comes from Merrill in Portland, who wrote in:

“I have two domains for the same limited audience running on WordPress, each with many years of history and consistent traffic.

One has about 2,000 views per month; the other 500.

One site started as a home for podcasts (there are now over 700) and the other was a blog and a link to a store.

Since both sites are aimed at the same audience, I don’t think it makes sense to continue with this segmented structure.

I’m considering creating a new domain and putting content from both under the new domain and using an LMS like Kajabi to put the podcast, blog, mailing list, store, etc. under one roof and simplify administration and “get credit” for combined traffic and page views.

I hope this will improve my overall ranking. What are the top 3 things I should focus on when considering this migration?

Excellent question, Merrill.

I’m going to take off my SEO hat for a minute and tell you that the first thing you should consider during this migration is your users.

Does it make sense to them?

From what you wrote, it seems like a typical user expects to see all this content on a domain, so I’d let that be my main driver.

On the SEO side, we can help you get the most ‘credit’ or ‘authority’ from a variety of solutions, so it’s important to make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons: the users!

You mention a new, third domain name.

I don’t know what your existing domain names are or if they make sense, but if they do I would consider keeping one.

Moving to a third domain won’t really hurt your SEO in the long run (it may take longer to get started but will be fine in the long run), but it can lead to some unforeseen issues.

If it’s a new domain, you’ll need to research who owned it and what kind of content was on it.

It’s possible that the domain has been used for spam in the past (or something else that would put your business at risk today).

Whichever domain you choose to host everything on, there are a few things you need to keep in mind as you start your migration and consolidation.

1. The redirect plan

This is where most sites fail during migrations.

No matter how well planned they are, they always miss or incorrectly set up some sort of redirect.

It’s important to ensure 1-to-1 redirects for all URLs and URL variations.

This may even mean updating old redirects currently in place (depending on your technical setup).

It’s too easy for things to slip through the cracks.

Many people use a Screaming Frog analysis to get a list of URLs, but this may not take into account unlinked landing pages etc., for example.

Always start by exporting from the CMS.

2. Content mapping

Depending on the sites you are migrating, you may have similar content on both.

Now, duplicate content isn’t a “penalty” or big deal the way many SEOs talk about it. But it is still not the best for users.

You will want to plan in advance what content will be rewritten or retired, and what URLs the formerly duplicate content will live on.

Chances are, one of these URLs will have better SEO signals pointing to it than the other.

3. Any technical issues

Once you’ve migrated, you’ll need to make sure all of this is properly updated:

  • Canonical tags
  • Schema tags
  • hreflang tags (including those from other sites)
  • Sitemaps
  • Paid links
  • Open Graph Tags
  • Twitter Cards
  • CDN Settings
  • random javascript/images/etc. with static URLs
  • Analytical tags
  • Third-party ad servers, API keys, or other domain-specific widgets.

I wouldn’t rely on redirects for search engine signals or code-based stuff, as it adds delays and can slow things down.

4. Inform search engines

While most will figure this out on their own based on redirects, Google and Bing each have a tool to help you speed things up a bit.

You should use them, but only after you’ve checked everything else.

There are a lot more things to do in a site migration or consolidation than people realize.

Having identified several for clients over the years, I can tell you that the amount of work can be eye-opening – sometimes so much that a team with a large site may reconsider changing domains just for reasons of vanity.

Hope this helps.

Remember, if you’re ever stuck on a decision, forget about SEO and ask yourself what’s best for the user.

Usually it’s better for SEO too – it might take a bit of extra work to code it right.

More resources:

Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO tips column written by some of the top SEO experts in the industry, who have been handpicked by Search Engine Journal. Do you have a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

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